In a previous thoughts post, I touched on my take of the steps that I feel are part of the image making process and that are also part of the development of style. I dubbed them the three C's. I would like to have another look and expand on my thoughts regarding them (and add a "C").
No single step is capable of creating a truly outstanding image, they are all needed. Like an engine, even the smallest, most boring part is important.
Concept may be strongly defined or not but either way there must be a concept on some level, consciously or unconsciously. Without it there is no process. If the image is personal, the intent may simply be to search for a good enough subject to fit with a style or loose idea. If the photograph is for another then communication is vital so the image maker can create what the image receiver wants.
Either way, the concept sets up the direction and intent, creating requirements and setting limits for the following steps.
As an example, a street shooter may be hunting a specific subject or with a preferred style in mind, without much control of what may present itself.
Composition is the applied technical element. Many good ideas have remained unfulfilled due to poor application, but good technical skills do not make up for a poor concept.
Once the concept is formed, the photographer must make framing, perspective and depth of field choices, applying their knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of their equipment and processes. This can be achieved by a practiced shooter in a fraction of a second or may be a slow and deliberate process as needed.
Probably the most important step and culmination of the previous two steps, taking them from purely practical to emotionally stimulating content. Simply put, if you do not make a connection with your image, neither will the intended viewer. Communication to your subject or yourself is the key component. Don't be shy, address the needs of the image or go home.
It may be perfect timing, a combination of composition/light/focus/colour that intrigues us or simply an extraordinary subject. Regardless, connection must be made on an emotional level or the image will not last past it's initial viewing.
This is the final part of the process and it should be the driving force for all of the previous steps. Presentation is all important and can make or break an image.
Good presentation must walk a fine line between enough to catch and hold the eye, but not too much. Avoid over working and spoiling the image and always remember less is more.
Often an image revisited at a later date will reveal over processing done in the excitement of the moment. Some photographers advocate waiting for a long while between shooting and processing.
Photographing with the intent to print or post is a very important part of my own personal process and has changed the way I view my images and my work flow. It's funny how you can shoot all day, but the second you decide to commit an image to paper, the process takes on a completely different feeling.
The final destination of your images should have a major bearing on the way (and the why) you make them.
This is my own take on the process. Many others have put forward their own versions or ideas and none are the one true path. Use what ever thinking process suits your style, but the above is my check list and has helped when the process is a not coming naturally.